Climate change is a complex scientific, economic, political, and social issue—and an issue of justice.
“The adverse impacts of global warming are not felt equitably among people. Extreme weather and sea level rise often disproportionately affect marginalized communities,” said Martina Donlon, climate communications lead with the United Nations Department of Global Communications, moderating a recent webinar on leveraging open access to advance climate justice.
Addressing the problem requires worldwide collaboration, yet too often, there are barriers — of cost, culture, and policy — that keep knowledge from flowing among scientists and the public. Advocates of opening up climate research shared their perspectives on the challenges and innovative solutions to unlock critical knowledge at the virtual event organized by the UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library on November 30, 2022.
A recording of the discussion can be found on the UN Library website.
More than one-third (37%) of climate literature published since 2014 is not freely available to the public, said panelist Joe McArthur, director and co-founder of the nonprofit OA.Works, citing work by the Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative.
“That means tens of thousands of papers are stuck behind paywalls,” McArthur said. This includes a landmark paper attributing climate change to human action and research documenting the decline in bees and other pollinators that could be useful to farmers around the world.
Not only would access accelerate opportunities for scientists to make advancements, McArthur said, studies show publishing in the open can make research more visible and significantly increase citations.
“The good news is that 95% of climate papers can be made free to read,” MacArthur said. “All we have to do is choose to do it.”
Self-archiving, though OpenClimateCampaign.org/share-your-paper, for instance, allows researchers to freely and legally upload their work in a few clicks. The aim is to make open access easy and equitable, said MacArthur.
Momentum in using open research to advance climate justice is growing as the urgency of the planet warming intersects with international calls to support open practices, such as the recent UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science.
Monica Granados, manager of the Open Climate Campaign, spoke at the webinar about the importance of the new partnership with Creative Commons, SPARC, and EIFL to promote collaboration and transparency in environmental research.
“If we’re going to solve the world’s biggest problems, like holes in the ozone, or pandemics, or climate change, then we need to understand the problem and have access to that knowledge,” Granados said. “That knowledge is what’s going to allow us to catalyze solutions, and adaptations and mitigations.”
In Africa, 22 interconnected countries in the AfricaConnect project are working together to build regional research infrastructures and harness community participation in the LIBSENSE initiative to support open access and open science, explained panelist Omo Oaiya, chief strategy officer for the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN). The NRENs collaborate with partners in the global research and education community to tackle climate change and work towards seeing the realization of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In some countries like Ghana, there are pilots connecting the national meteorological service to the NREN backbone to facilitate climate research.
Speaking from NIPGR, New Delhi, India, Gitanjali Yadav shared her efforts to bypass barriers to climate research through a nonprofit platform, #semanticClimate, that she co-founded.
“There is no justice without access,” Yadav said. “But what is required to access real knowledge is not just reading material.”
The #semanticClimate initiative leverages volunteers to translate documents in different formats and languages so they are more useful to more people. For instance, the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is 10,000 pages, written in English and locked in a portable document format (PDF) with charts, graphs, and references that are difficult to extract and analyze. A team at #semanticClimate is working to transform such documents into hypermedia form; making them machine processable, multilingual and embedded in the global knowledge graph through Wikimedia.
“Available and accessible are not the same thing,” Yadav said. “We believe in making knowledge freely accessible to all. We are catalyzing a Global Semantic Knowledge Commons (GSKC) for climate change. It’s a self-improving network of semantic tools. This is a very powerful idea, and it can change and transform the way the world collects and uses knowledge.”